If Exercise Feels Like Work, You’re Doing It Wrong

“Do I look fat? I went out to dinner last night and ended up having a bite of the chocolate lava cake. Okay, maybe two bites. But I’m pretty sure I gained five pounds.”

“After spin, I’m going to grab a salad and then head to Pilates.”

“I have two different gym memberships, and a few packages at studios, but I don’t ever get around to actually using them all.”

Any of these sentences sound familiar? We’ve all been there. Or perhaps you’re still there, or well on your way. Deep breaths, it’s okay. We start off with a desire to get in shape: We want to try out every class, join the newest gyms, and eat at the hippest — yet vegan, gluten free-friendly and Paleo-esque — places in town. But then, somewhere along the way, keeping up with this lifestyle gets overwhelming. To put it simply, when it comes to fitness, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

At first, it’s the appeal of the “cheaper than therapy” feeling we get from our endorphins that keeps us coming back for more. But the problem begins when we start to feel that, on top of a full-time job, we’ve got a side gig: Attempting to stay fit, all while still trying to have fun.

Eventually, we end up hitting a wall. A wall where we no longer find enjoyment in working out, where we really dread meeting up with our personal trainers, and where we want to say “F it,” and cut our losses with a giant bowl of ice cream. You know what this is called? Burn out. It happens at your real job and it happens when working out feels like a job. You’re trying to do it all, but you’re not doing any of it the right way. The fix? Find what you truly enjoy doing to stay fit and just do that. Breaking news: You don’t have to do it all.

Sadly, it’s not always self-evident, and it does take some trial and error to find out what you actually enjoy doing. One way to start is to quit thinking of exercise and healthy eating as just a means to drop 10 pounds. If you want to keep up with fitness, it can’t always be about how many calories you’ve burned or how many steps you’ve taken. When we think of fitness with this mindset, it tends to lose its fun factor, for obvious reason.

So if exercise feels like a second job to you right now, I challenge you to put more emphasis on what forms of physical activity you really, truly enjoy. Because in the end, we have to realize that the key to a lifetime of love for exercise is finding deeper motivation than just physical appearances.

Below, a few things to keep in mind to avoid getting stuck in a “staying fit is work” mindset.

1. Find something that you truly enjoy doing, whether it’s hiking, running, rock climbing — whatever makes you happy. It’s as simple as that. Because when you enjoy what’s keeping you fit, you’re more inclined to keep going back for more.

2. Realize that your body is different than everyone else’s. Just because your girlfriends are obsessed with Pilates, CrossFit, or their personal trainer, does not mean you have to share their love. It’s your journey, so do what works for you!

3. When it comes to healthy eating, remember: You can have your cake, and eat it, too — just, you know, in moderation. But make sure when you’re eating it, you’re really, truly enjoying it, maybe alongside some amazing friends, and great conversation. Otherwise you’re mindlessly eating and you’ll end up regretting your indulgence.

Jayel Lewis is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, owner of JL Fitness, and creator of Inspirationally fit, where everyBODY has a story.

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